Saint Studies: St. Mary Magdalene Lessons and Activities

Here’s a saint study about St. Mary Magdalene, complete with lesson ideas and activities.

By Kate Daneluk

Mary Magdalene is one of the most important women in Scripture.  She was clearly a close friend and follower of Jesus and is mentioned a dozen times by name in the Gospels, more than most of the Apostles.  Mary was present for the Crucifixion and the first to meet the Risen Christ where she was given the first charge to share the news of the Resurrection with the Apostles.

About Mary Magdalene

Mary was from the town of Magdala, a commercial town in Galilee known for the production of smoked fish products and wool and wool dyes.  It seems Mary was a woman of some means as she is mentioned as a financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry.  It is likely she became a follower of Jesus after encountering Him in Galilee where He healed her of illness of possession. 

Scripture explains that Jesus had driven seven demons from her.  This could refer to an actual exorcism or a healing of illnesses, mental or physical, which were usually attributed to demons at the time.

As was customary with caravanning at the time, the women and men following Jesus traveled in separate and distinct groups.  It is believed the Mary Magdalene was the leader of the women’s group, which suggests that she had strong organizational, leadership, and interpersonal skills. 

While Jesus loves all of us immeasurably, His fully human nature included creating real friendships and relationships.  We know He broke barriers in His treatment and respect for women and it seems that Mary had a close, mutual friendship with Jesus but always referred to or addressed Him as Rabbi or Lord, showing that she was truly His disciple. 

She was with the Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion, which some have taken to suggest that the two assumed a mother/daughter relationship even before Jesus gave us His Mother on the Cross.

There is a legend that Mary Magdalene eventually ended up in France where she is given credit for both evangelization and living as one of the first Christian hermits until her death, but there is no official teaching on this. 

In a sermon delivered in the 6th century, Pope Gregory connected Mary Magdalene with both Mary of Bethany (Lazarus’ sister) and with the penitent sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet and dried it with her hair.  This led to patronages associated with these women. 

For years many were taught that these were all different accounts of the same Mary, although it was never an official Church teaching or corroborated by scripture scholars.  The Eastern Church always saw these as three distinct women and most Biblical scholars agree.  Obviously, Mary, or Miriam, was a very popular name.

Mary Magdalene is a model of faithfulness, obedience, generosity and full devotion to the will and service of God.  As Catholics we are often called to defend the patriarchal nature of the Church.  We can point to the supreme Queenship of our Holy Mother the highest of all saints and queen of Heaven and Earth.  Mary Magdalene is another amazing example of the important role women have played in the Church from the very beginning. 

Mary held a friendship with her Rabbi and a role of leadership far ahead of her time.  Although she was not able to be a priest or chosen as Pope like her counterpart, Peter, she was the first one chosen by the Risen Lord to see His glory and is mentioned several times by name in the Gospels. 

She is an example to us of the important role women are meant to play in the Church.  She remained faithful through the Crucifixion, and after, was ready to prepare Jesus’ body for burial and ready to shout the Resurrection from the rooftops when the Apostles were doubtful and afraid. 

Mary Magdalene’s importance and leadership show us that Holy Orders, while uniquely for men, does not diminish the role that women are called to in the Church and in the world.

Fun facts about Mary Magdalene

Feast Day: July 22

Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of:

  • contemplative life
  • converts
  • glove makers
  • hairdressers
  • penitent sinners
  • people ridiculed for their piety
  • perfumeries
  • pharmacists
  • sexual temptation
  • tanners
  • women

Mary Magdalene in your classroom:

Mary Magdalene’s important role in the Gospel can provide a Catholic perspective with several topics across the curriculum:

  • History/Social Studies – Ancient Rome, Biblical times, the role of women in society and history
  • Geography – Israel, ancient Israel, the Roman Empire
  • Literature – feminism, platonic love between the sexes, mother/daughter relationship between non-related women
  • Religion – Holy Orders and why it is reserved for men, discipleship, apostleship, the role of women in the Early Church, generosity

Here are some activities you can use in your classroom relating to Mary Magdalene:

  1. Story time/Drama (grades K – 3) – Mary Magdalene is an important figure in the Gospel.  Acting out these stories, particularly the Resurrection, help children to see Mary Magdalene’s key role in the Christian community.
  2. Heresy Alert (grades 7 and up) – Following the release of The Da Vinci Code in 2003 and later the film in 2006, there have been numerous heresies about Jesus’ life including a theory that He was married to Mary Magdalene or that she was indeed a priest.  While the book is no longer headline news, the stories remain on the internet and in television programming.  You may want to address these head on with your class and prepared them to understand and defend the Scripture and Church tradition on these topics.  Author Elizabeth Fletcher  has excellent material on this and provides free information on this topic on her website.
  3. Comparison Essay (grades 5 and up) – Assign students a paper comparing the lives of three women who had a deep impact on the Church:  St. Mary Magdalene, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Teresa of Avila.
  4. Biblical History project (grades 3 and up) – Have your students learn more about the life of Mary Magdalene and the other people of the Gospel.  Learn about the world Jesus lived in with presentations on life in Israel at the time.  This research project can include crafts and costumes and demonstrations similar to a Colonial Fair Project.  You may want to read the book, The Golden Bow, as a class to help paint the historical picture.  Some ideas for projects may be:
    • Smoking fish or dying wool in Magdala
    • Fishing on the Sea of Galilee
    • Tax collector, the least popular family in town
    • Family Farming, Vineyards, Orchards
    • Sheep Herding
    • Life of a Rabbi
    • Merchants and their travels
    • Carpentry
    • Weaving
    • Work of a Blacksmith
    • The Resistance against Rome
    • Priests, Sadducees, Pharisees
    • The Government Official

Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.